Team Creativity in Times of Challenge

Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell has often talked about how the challenges she has faced throughout her life have contributed to her lyrics and music; most notably her struggle with mental health and the value that years of therapy has provided for her. Not coincidentally, the cover art of her 1994 album ‘Turbulent Indigo‘ is a self-portrait by Mitchell in the style of Vincent van Gogh’s own famous self-portrait with a bandaged ear – a piece of artwork that symbolized van Gogh’s own struggle with mental health. In Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words – Conversations with Malka Marom (2014), she sums it up this way: “An artist needs a certain amount of turmoil and confusion, and I’ve created out of that. It’s been part of the creative force.”

While not working in the field of mental health, a lot of the work Building Bridges Leadership does with teams invites challenge and tension into the team, specifically and intentionally designed to get to a place of breakthrough (after all, “it’s all in the debrief…”). These scenarios have something in common with how Joni Mitchell’s thoughts on the creative force. In each case, the friction leads to a change in energy. Think, for example, about flint and steel. When struck together with force, these two elements create sparks which can lead to a roaring fire, potentially providing life-saving heat in the cold. Without that friction, no reaction – no creation – takes place. Perhaps your team has encountered friction recently, or perhaps you’re encountering some friction even now. So what can you do with that?

Around this time last year, in the midst of waiting for election results, our Building Bridges Leadership blog post focused on paying attention to the ideas that you and your teammates have in “liminal spaces”; times of uncertainty, or, as Dr. Seuss put it, “the waiting place.” It turns out that these times can be some of the most fertile for new creative ideas. Perhaps something similar might be true for times of challenge? Perhaps the friction your team is experiencing might create the spark of something new? And if so, how might you harness that to create something more akin to a warm fire than to a dangerous inferno?

This Week’s Tip:

Notice the friction that your team experiences in times of challenge, and pay attention to the creative impulses that result.

  1. Keep your eyes open for tension on your team – perhaps this is obvious to you on a daily basis, or perhaps it’s more subtle, or infrequent, but assume that it’s there even if you aren’t aware of it all the time. Pay attention to ideas you get during these times of tension, and devote some time to exploring those ideas more than you might usually.
  2. Pay attention to team members and colleagues who are expressing ideas or thoughts in times of tension. Listen closely to their ideas and comments, ask them open-ended questions to expand on their thoughts, and take some time to reflect on them yourself.
  3. Take some time to sift through the ideas that you and your team members express. Discuss them with trusted colleagues or mentors to discern which ideas could be pursued further. What are the ideas and pieces of wisdom that could be the seeds of some new growth for you, for your team, or for your organization as a whole?

Try this out this week and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group – we’d love to hear what you learn about yourself and others as you do!

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Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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